Wright on Ephesians and the Resurrection

In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright devotes a small section on the Pauline corpus outside of Corinthians dealing with resurrection. In this chapter, he treats resurrection in Ephesians but combined with Colossians. The section starts from page 236 and is concluded on page 240. Specifically, the section concerning Ephesians is found in pages 236-238.

Wright says that the language of inheritance (Eph 1:14) is eschatological language identifying Paul’s view of both continuity and discontinuity for the present Christian experience and the final hope. The inheritance is both assured but not yet possessed. He emphasizes that Eph 1:3-14 is a re-telling of an exodus story.

This retelling, Wright says, leads Paul into a celebratory prayer, for the church is awaiting its final inheritance (Eph 1:15-23). This section is a re-telling of the Jesus story. He was raised from the dead; he was sat at the right hand of the throne of God; all things were put under his feet. Wright points out that Psalm 8:6 is a very important background text for the Jesus story here in Ephesians. It indicates that the rule of the Messiah fulfills the divine intention for humanity. Furthermore, the divine power that accomplished these things in him is also at work in the believers.

Wright points to Eph 2:1-10, being primarily focused on vv. 5-6, saying that in the Messiah all of humankind has been brought from death to life. Those who are in the Messiah have been resurrected, and they have been seated with him. What can be said of Christ in Eph 1:20-23 can also be said to be true of those who are in the Messiah. For Paul, in Ephesians the concept of resurrection pertains to the restoration of humankind through the gospel; it is the return from death to life. Wright says that resurrection language can be adapted, and indeed it was: “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

This adaptation enabled Paul to demonstrate how all of humanity is joined together in the Messiah in Eph 2:11-22 according to Wright. The covenant has been abolished, therefore destroying the enmity between Jew and Gentile, because in the Messiah there has been created a new humanity. This new humanity is to grow up into the Messiah so that it becomes mature. Wright says, “Resurrected humanity, it seems, is humanity reaching its full goal.”

This new humanity has resurrection as its basis for present Christian living, which is what the song or poem of Eph 5:14 points toward. This concept, shining in the darkness, is clearly connected with Daniel 12:3, for believers must shine.

So, although the word “resurrection” is not in Ephesians, Wright says that the concept is present. It is the resurrected Jesus that makes the new humanity possible. It is the same power that was at work in the resurrected Jesus that is currently working in the believers. It is the future hope of the resurrection that provides the encouragement for present Christian living in combination with the reality of the present aspect of the resurrection.

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2 thoughts on “Wright on Ephesians and the Resurrection

  1. First let me say how incredible this blog is, and what a phenomenal resource this will be for Ephesians studies for years to come. Thank you for this labor of love and excellence.

    Second… a question: What is NT Wright saying that’s new? How does this advance Ephesians studies? I have not read his book, but from what you’re saying, there’s nothing new. Perhaps he frames things differently, but the gist and conclusions sound like stuff I’ve heard all my life. Am I missing something?

    Thanks again, James, for this really great stuff.

    Bill

    • Bill, you are right, there is nothing new here. His treatment of Ephesians and Colossians was not ground breaking. I happened to be reading through his book, so when I came across the section on Ephesians, I summarized it and put it on the blog.

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